S. Africa Passes Sweeping New Security Bills
The government pushed through sweeping new security legislation Friday to give the police on a regular basis the same, almost unlimited powers they have under the present state of emergency.
One new law will permit law enforcement authorities to detain for six months, without charge or trial, anyone they believe to have been involved, or likely to become involved, in the country’s continuing unrest. A detainee may not appeal to the courts for release, and the six-month period can apparently be renewed indefinitely.
No Review by Courts
A second, even broader, law will authorize the government to designate any district an “unrest area” and then allow the security forces to take whatever actions they regard as necessary to restore law and order there. Courts would be barred from reviewing any of the government’s actions under the law.
Together, the two bills effectively put South Africa under a permanent state of emergency, critics said, but without embarrassing the government by forcing it to say so.
The measures’ passage by the President’s Council, a legislative body that resolves parliamentary disputes, may enable the government to announce that it is lifting the present state of emergency, imposed nationwide June 12 but still continue the crackdown on anti-apartheid forces.
The council overrode the Indian and Colored (mixed-race) houses of the tricameral Parliament, which had balked at the proposed legislation and blocked its passage.
Six more people, including a 9-year-old boy shot by soldiers, were reported killed in the country’s continuing civil strife, bringing to 54 the number of deaths during the state of emergency.
The boy, Dumisane Mbatha, was fatally wounded Tuesday afternoon in the backyard of his home in Soweto, southwest of Johannesburg, when troops pursued youths fleeing from a neighborhood protest rally and fired several warning shots at one youth as he climbed a fence into the backyard of the Mbatha home. One of the rifle shots went through a tin shed in the yard and hit young Dumisane, according to his father.
‘Shot Without Any Reason’
“They seem to have just shot Dumisane, shot him without any reason at all,” Johannes Mbatha, an unemployed laborer, said Friday evening. “The soldiers and police came and said it was accidental, and I suppose it was accidental that my son died when they wanted to kill that boy who was escaping. Anyway, they caught him, so why did they have to shoot my son?”
David W. Steward, chief of the government’s information bureau, described the boy’s death as “tragic” and extended the government’s sympathy to the family. He said the shooting had only come to light Friday, three days after it occurred, and that it was still under investigation. The bureau initially announced that a 4-year-old child had been killed in the incident but later attributed the mistake to confusion, a spokesman said.
The information bureau, the only authorized source of information on the unrest here, also reported the deaths of four black men in a 3 a.m. shootout with black policemen at Chesterton, near Durban, in unexplained circumstances. The other reported death was that of a black man who had been killed, allegedly by other blacks, with several shotgun blasts near Grahamstown in eastern Cape province.
The government maintains that, despite the continuing high death toll, the level of violence is dropping almost daily, with half the reported incidents no more serious than stone-throwing. But severe government restrictions on news coverage, barring reporters from all black townships and any other areas of unrest, make it impossible to assess the accuracy of these claims.
Black Strikes Spread
Meanwhile, strikes continued to spread among black workers in retail stores, factories and commercial farms protesting the detention of dozens of labor union officials under the state of emergency. Six major retail chains, including two of the country’s largest supermarket owners, are now affected, as are two major dairy companies.
The head of one of the country’s largest chemical companies, AECI Ltd., called on the government Friday either to bring the union leaders to trial on criminal charges or release them, warning that their detention is already causing serious labor problems in the industry.
“The heavy-handed, belligerent approach of the authorities is uncalled for,” Mike Sander, AECI’s managing director, said in a strongly worded statement. “I do not believe there is the necessary understanding or sensitivity in some government circles concerning the situation.”
The powerful Chamber of Mines similarly warned that its negotiations with the black National Union of Mineworkers were being jeopardized by the detentions.
Official Refuses Meetings
But Louis le Grange, the minister of law and order, has refused so far to meet with business representatives on the union officials’ detentions, apparently fearing a broadside of criticism on the whole state of emergency.
The passage of the two new security laws through the President’s Council may clear the way for the lifting of the nationwide state of emergency and its replacement with a series of scaled-down “state of unrest” declarations that would cover the most troubled parts of the country and grant police the same emergency powers they have now.
Both President Pieter W. Botha and Le Grange said when the state of emergency was decreed that, had the two security laws been passed by Parliament, it would not have been necessary to impose the emergency. Both have recently assured members of Parliament that the state of emergency will be lifted once the new laws are in force.
The measures were strongly criticized, nevertheless, as permanently curtailing South Africa’s already limited civil liberties. “We should be stripping them (the security forces) of power, not giving them more,” said R.V. Carlisle, a council member from the white opposition Progressive Federal Party.
‘At Mercy of Police’
P.C. Schoeman, another council member from the Progressive Federal Party, said that, without checks against abuses, the measures “put the country at the mercy of the police” and “leave the freedom of every individual to the judgment of an ordinary policeman.”
The government clearly intends to make wide use of the new powers while pretending that the situation has returned to normal by lifting the state of emergency, Schoeman said. “Just who do you think you are bluffing?” he asked.
But the ruling National Party used its 35-member majority in the 60-member President’s Council, which has both legislative and advisory functions, to enact the new laws over the strong objections of the Progressive Federal Party, and over both the majority and opposition parties in the Indian and Colored houses of the Parliament. On the detention bill, the vote was 35 to 22; on the “unrest areas” bill, the vote was 35 to 21, after an Indian lawmaker walked out in protest.
The two bills had been defeated in both the Indian and Colored houses of South Africa’s tricameral Parliament, but were passed by the Nationalist-controlled white house. When there was no agreement, the legislation was sent to the President’s Council where the Nationalists pushed both laws through in a marathon 9 1/2-hour session.
The measures now go to Botha for his approval, which is expected quickly, and then become law.